At America’s biggest football game, one practice synonymous with all other American football games won’t be allowed. Fans who show up to the game early to tailgate for Super Bowl XLVIII won’t be allowed to do so outside New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, the game’s host committee announced at a press conference Monday.
There are a number of reasons for it, chiefly that MetLife’s typical 28,500-space parking capacity is being cut by more than half to just 13,000. So instead of driving, the host committee is urging fans to use public transit — in fact, it’s giving them few other options. The committee expects more than two-thirds of the Super Bowl’s 80,000 fans to arrive via public transportation, whether New Jersey’s train system or the $51 Fan Express buses it will run from nine locations to the stadium.
I’m a fan of public transit, and increasing its use as a mode of travel to sporting events can vastly reduce the environmental impact of such games (shrinking the Super Bowl’s carbon footprint has been a major goal of the NFL in recent years). But this policy isn’t about the environment, since the committee is also banning fans from walking to the game from public transit stops or anywhere else. They also won’t be allowed to share taxis or limousines, and only a limited number of parking spaces will be allotted for buses.
If MetLife is only going to have 13,000 parking spots for 80,000 fans, banning tailgating is the only option, since it wouldn’t make sense to let groups of fans crowd parking spots with grills and lounge chairs and other tailgating accessories. The question, then, is why a stadium is cutting its parking capacity in half for the biggest event it has ever hosted.
The answer is that the space is needed to create an extra-large security perimeter around the event, according to Super Bowl committee CEO Al Kelly, and that perimeter will force fans to go through security both at train stations and at the stadium.
That’s better than filling up 15,000 parking spots with corporate tents or other promotional events that average fans can’t afford to access (though the Super Bowl itself is becoming too hard for average football fans to attend). But it still doesn’t make much sense, especially since tailgating might offer fans the chance to skip out on high prices inside the stadium. I get that the Super Bowl is a major event that attracts fans and attention from all over the world and that there are natural security concerns that come with it. I get that securing the event is a major undertaking. What I don’t get is how it’s so much different from a normal game — MetLife hosts 16 of them every year — that hosting it requires shutting down half of a stadium’s parking lot, banning taxis from dropping off people in the vicinity, and preventing people from walking. And I don’t get why it necessitates preventing people who want to partake in an American sporting ritual at America’s biggest sporting event from doing so.
But this, I guess, is the world we live in now, where security trumps all, even basic entertainment. Still, it would seem to me that there are ways to make the Super Bowl safe without turning it into an absolute hassle for people to get to — or without robbing the sporting event of one of football’s most basic features.